Jason Isbell was the big Americana winner during the 60th GRAMMYs and he used his platform to speak his piece on the role of music and the inequality in the music industry. For him, music is more than a background mood setter, it is the way we communicate what we truly feel and a means of building our community.
“I think it’s important for everybody to use their voice,” Isbell said backstage at Madison Square Garden. “I think it’s important for everybody to try to change things for the better. What we do, it’s not just for entertainment.”
This may help explain some of Isbell’s frustrations with Nashville. A significant portion of the country music industry is just about entertainment, which is fine. Luke Bryan, for example, wants to make music that helps people have fun and cut loose. That’s his target. Isbell, however, sees a greater opportunity: to create real change
“If I had my druthers, I would rather people be consuming the music as an activity rather than having it on in the background while they get ready for a sporting event or riding around in the mud or something like that,” he explained. “I want them to be listening. If that’s the kind of music you’re trying to make … I’m not saying it’s better or worse, but I think you have a responsibility to be honest about the things that you believe.”
He went on to explain that that responsibility extends to lifting up those who are marginalized and often cut out of the industry.
“All the art that we are making and all the music that we’re creating would be better if everyone had an equal voice no matter their gender or their race. I think it’s a really important thing that country music doesn’t necessarily talk about as much as the other genres do.”
The pointed comment may ruffle feathers, but it is true. Country music, for better or worse, actively avoids making political statements.
“We just have to keep talking about it, keep on talking about it, just like all the issues that we’re dealing with right now on a cultural and societal level,” he says. “If we keep having these conversations and quit ignoring things like inequality, then I think they’ll find a way to work themselves out. Hopefully, it won’t take another thousand years, but we’ll see.”